Affirming the Ministry of Women in the Lutheran Church of Australia

NOT A PHOTO, BUT A SKETCH …

Our Lord Jesus had virtually a trilingual upbringing. Aramaic was spoken in the Galilean Jewish home but common Greek was the language of commerce in the wider community and the scriptures were read in classical Hebrew - the ‘literary ancestral language’. This was rather like my own childhood situation: a local dialect of German spoken in the home, Aussie English the language of the dominant culture and the scriptures read in ‘Luther Bible German’. Jesus was aware that his birthplace was elsewhere and very early he recognized his true roots to be ‘in my Father’s house’ (Luke 3:41-50Luke 3:41-50
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).

For twenty years or more I have watched the discussion and listened to the arguments for and against the ordination of women to the ministry of the gospel within the Lutheran Church of Australia, originally from a safe distance in Papua New Guinea, and since retirement, from the Canberra sidelines. I have always felt comfortable with the concept of gender equality in ministry and leadership. But I’m sure that within the LCA, if it is to be true to itself, a consensus can only be formed and agreement reached on the basis of the biblical evidence.

First and foremost we have to agree on what is the Bible’s basic, normative teaching about the male-female relationship. For that, we have to do what Jesus did: go back to the beginning, to the opening chapter/s of the Bible, to Genesis: The Beginning. Jesus’ primary concern, first as a student, then as a teacher, was to uncover God’s eternal will and purpose ‘from the beginning’. In the matter under discussion, we see him doing this in the parallel accounts of Mark 10:4-8Mark 10:4-8
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4 They said, “Moses allowed a certificate of divorce to be written, and to divorce her.” 5 But Jesus said to them, “For your hardness of heart, he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of the creation, ‘God made them male and female. 7 For this cause a man will leave his father and mother, and will join to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh,’ so that they are no longer two, but one flesh.

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and Matthew 19:4-6Matthew 19:4-6
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4 He answered, “Haven’t you read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall join to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh?’ 6 So that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, don’t let man tear apart.”

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. And since we are a part of the church that is one, holy, universal and apostolic, the basic witness of the apostles Peter and Paul will conclude the chain of evidence.

Genesis 1:26-31Genesis 1:26-31
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26 God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in his own image. In God’s image he created him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them. God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 God said, “Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree, which bears fruit yielding seed. It will be your food. 30 To every animal of the earth, and to every bird of the sky, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. There was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

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and 5:1-2: the Beginning

The longer I ponder the concluding verses of the opening chapter of the Jewish Torah, which is also the first chapter of the Christian’s Bible, the more I marvel that any priest of a patriarchal society like Israel’s could produce such a balanced ‘non-sexist’ confession of how God, in the beginning, established the most basic human relationship, that of male and female. Can any of us doubt that this climax to the account of the creating of the cosmos, is preeminently God’s inspired Word?

I will refer to the key concepts in their English, Hebrew and Greek (and occasionally, Latin and German) forms.

  1. English: man; Hebrew: adam; Greek: anthropos; Latin: homo; German: mensch.
    Except for modern English ‘man’ these words clearly designate: a human being (as a specimen of the race); a person (man or woman); in the plural: mankind, the human race, humankind, people.
  2. E: male & female; H: zaker & negbah; Gk: arsen & thely; L: vir & femina; G: Mann & Weib
    God’s intention to create adam as a pair of equals (26) becomes explicit in the action: ‘male and female he created them’ (27).3.
  3. E: image & likeness; H: tselem & demuth; Gk: eikon & homoiosis
    The term ‘image’ is primary; the term ‘likeness’ limits it: tells us the image is not a complete mirror image; not a photo but a sketch. Luther uses one work to cover both terms: Bild (a picture).

Both male and female have this divine image, bear this likeness. Both are an incomplete likeness; for they are also different from each other. But they are equally made in God’s image; their differing male and female likenesses are equally valid (27). Nora re the members of any one ‘race’ more like God than any other. There is only one human race and every human belongs to it!

It is clear that these likenesses are not physical, but relational. They are as much a result of God’s word of blessing (28) as they are of God’s word of creation (26). The likeness to God means that they are/can be in intimate relationship with God and with each other.

As a special part of God’s creation they are to develop relationships with ‘the whole earth’ including its plants and trees (ecology): but more particularly with fish and birds, livestock and wild beasts, because these, like the human, have the breath of life in them (30b, cf 2:7b).

  • English: subdue (earth) & rule over (animals);
  • Hebrew: kabash & radah;
  • Greek: katakyrieusate & archete

Three aspects are under God’s blessing on homo sapiens, as male and female work together as equal partners (true ‘mates’).

  1. The first is the management of their own fertility, as they increase their own kind to ‘fill the earth’, (Genesis 1:28Genesis 1:28
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    28 God blessed them. God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

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    a). I have the impression that in this we are proving to be ‘overachievers’.
  2. The second is the taming the vegetated earth and acting as the wise head(s) of all other living/breathing creatures (Genesis 1:28Genesis 1:28
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    28 God blessed them. God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

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    b). Pioneering and colonising, science and technology are all aspects of the equal partnership of males and females. How wise are we in sustainably developing this planet?
  3. In the third, God sets the ecological parameters and limits for the first two. God said: ‘I give you every seedbearing plant…’ and ‘To all the beasts, etc. I give every green plant for food.’ ‘And it was so… it was very good’. It is God’s will that humans share the earth’s resources of food and habitat equitably with all the other species. How are we managing, as male and female partners? We still need to pray: “Your will be done, here on earth as it is in heaven.” with regard to the environment.

Genesis 5:1-2Genesis 5:1-2
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5 1 This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, he made him in God’s likeness. 2 He created them male and female, and blessed them, and called their name Adam, “Adam” and “Man” are spelled with the exact same consonants in Hebrew, so this can be correctly translated either way. in the day when they were created.

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is a powerful summary of the basic teaching of 1:26-31. “When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them and he blessed them and named them ‘adam’ (‘humankind’) when they were created.

So ‘Adam‘ is neither just male, nor androgynous, but ‘male and female‘. And equally so, equal in rights, powers and responsibilities, together as partners, as mates.

Gen. 2:4Gen. 2:4
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4 This is the history of the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that Yahweh God made earth and the heavens.

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b-3:24 – the story of Adam and Eve

At first (2:7ff) the story is about adam ‘the human’, nameless. In v.22 ‘a woman’ is taken from the man’s rib. It is man the poetic lover who calls her ‘woman’ ishah (‘mate’) because she was taken out of ‘man’ – ish ‘man/husband’. Then to the end of the story it’s about adam ‘the man’ (only twice, 3:6,16 referred to as ish - ‘husband’) and ishah - the woman ‘wife’. Only later after judgment has befallen the erring couple, does adam name his wife ‘Eve’ (Greek Zoe) ‘because she would become the mother of all the living’. 3:20. She is called that once more (4:1) when she became pregnant to her no-name husband.

So the translator’s problem is: When do we dignify adam ‘the man’ and start calling the first male ‘Adam’? The Septuagint Greek refers to adam at Genesis 2:16Genesis 2:16
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16 Yahweh God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat:

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as God instructs him in the care and use of the Garden, and then again at 2:19 when the animals are brought for him to name. At v23 jubilant Adam calls his rib-mate Gyne (woman/wife). The KJV introduces us to Adam in Genesis 2:19Genesis 2:19
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19 Out of the ground Yahweh God formed every animal of the field, and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. Whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.

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, as he first exercises authority by naming the animals. How the tables are turned! Adam has a responsible job and a proper name: his wife has to wait until he names her ‘Eve’ (Greek: Zoe) in Genesis 3:20Genesis 3:20
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20 The man called his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living.

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. Full marks go to Dr Luther: He translates adam with Mensch/Mann until in Genesis 3:8Genesis 3:8
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8 They heard the voice of Yahweh God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of Yahweh God among the trees of the garden.

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– fallen Adam hid himself and his wife in shame from God. Only then are they ‘Adam and Eve’ – equals at last!

Conclusion: The joy and tragedy of Genesis 2-3 describes the marital relationship of man and woman as established by the Creator and as damaged by their fall into sin. Marriage is still under God’s protection but subject to abuse by humans. Though translators struggle with its terminology, the story itself is not sexist1. Neither is it a place from which to draw arguments for or against women’s ordination – or subordination.

Mk 10:5-8Mk 10:5-8
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5 But Jesus said to them, “For your hardness of heart, he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of the creation, ‘God made them male and female. 7 For this cause a man will leave his father and mother, and will join to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh,’ so that they are no longer two, but one flesh.

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//Mt 19:4-6Mt 19:4-6
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4 He answered, “Haven’t you read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall join to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh?’ 6 So that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, don’t let man tear apart.”

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– Jesus’ teaching on male-female equality

It is striking that the Bible describes male and female (Gk. Arsen-thely), to my knowledge, only in the Gen 1 and 5 parallels and in these gospel parallels. Our Lord himself makes that connection by quoting from Genesis 1:5Genesis 1:5
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5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. There was evening and there was morning, one day.

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and Gen 2:24Gen 2:24
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24 Therefore a man will leave his father and his mother, and will join with his wife, and they will be one flesh.

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, ‘At the beginning of creation God “made them male and female”. “For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh.” So they are no longer two but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no human (anthropos) separate.’

Jesus receives everything that was said about male-female equality at face value, despite the radically different context with which he is confronted. For him the normative truth of Gen 1:26-30Gen 1:26-30
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26 God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in his own image. In God’s image he created him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them. God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 God said, “Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree, which bears fruit yielding seed. It will be your food. 30 To every animal of the earth, and to every bird of the sky, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food.” And it was so.

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, reiterated in 5:1-2, as the expression of God’s eternal will and purpose in this matter, is applicable to all human social contexts and situations.

It is another matter to decide whether it is wise and smart, in each and every situation, to enforce God’s will: that ‘What God has joined together, let no one separate.’ Our hardness of heart may frustrate it, but cannot render it invalid.

Jesus did not send his female disciples out two by two or call them as his apostles! Well, there were no precedents in Jewish society for such things. He did however welcome the initiative of one of them in anointing him as the Servant King! He did entrust three of them with the message of his resurrection and the responsibility of passing on instructions to his male disciples – especially to Peter!

Acts 2 – the inauguration of God’s New Age

At Pentecost the Holy Spirit came to the whole worshipping gathering which included the older and some younger women in explicit fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy. Peter opens his explanation to the multi-lingual crowd by quoting:

‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophecy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophecy.’ (Acts 2:17-18Acts 2:17-18
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17 ‘It will be in the last days, says God, That I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions. Your old men will dream dreams. 18 Yes, and on my servants and on my handmaidens in those days, I will pour out my Spirit, and they will prophesy.

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)

The gift of the Spirit on ‘all flesh’, the endowment with the gift of prophecy (preaching) for both male and female disciples and across the whole age range, could scarcely be more explicitly all-inclusive. Peter’s confident statement was not contradicted by his hearers, because the evidence was there for all to see.

And Peter closes his appeal with the words: ‘The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord will call.’ (cf 1:8) That promise includes forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit (2:38-39).

And, to borrow from Paul: the promise which is ‘for all’ includes the ninefold fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-3Gal. 5:22-3
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) and a selection from his open-ended list of charismata (personal endowments) – distributed to each one as the Spirit chooses (1 Cor 12:4-111 Cor 12:4-11
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4 Now there are various kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are various kinds of service, and the same Lord. 6 There are various kinds of workings, but the same God, who works all things in all. 7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the profit of all. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom, and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith, by the same Spirit; and to another gifts of healings, by the same Spirit; 10 and to another workings of miracles; and to another prophecy; and to another discerning of spirits; to another different kinds of languages; and to another the interpretation of languages. 11 But the one and the same Spirit works all of these, distributing to each one separately as he desires.

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); not as humans (anthropoi) may wish to restrict or deny that divine freedom.

We live in the New Covenant era, God’s New Age of redemption, restoration and fulfilment, through the blood of His Son. But 2000 years on, our generation has lost the sense of wonder at the newness, the freedom, the difference of this era from that of the Old Covenant of detailed laws and rules. To regain that freshness, let’s go back to Paul, the greatest theologian of the generation when the Christian Church was born.

Galatians 3:25-29Galatians 3:25-29
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25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all children of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to promise.

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– God’s children through faith

‘Now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian [the Law] for in Jesus Christ you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave nor free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.’

In this new era, faith in Christ has superceded the obedience to the law, that is the Mosaic Covenant mediated to the common people (laity) by a levitical, patriarchal priesthood. This passage contains Paul’s normative teaching of the basic equality of all believers, regardless of ethnicity or culture, gender or status. Here Paul consciously bases the value system of an inclusive New Testament Christian Church, on the order which God established at creation (Gen. 1:26-30Gen. 1:26-30
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26 God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in his own image. In God’s image he created him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them. God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 God said, “Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree, which bears fruit yielding seed. It will be your food. 30 To every animal of the earth, and to every bird of the sky, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food.” And it was so.

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) – before there were such things as disparate languages, ethnicities, cultures, classes or castes. ‘In the beginning’ there was only the gender distinction between male and female – both made in the image and likeness of God.

For Jesus, living under Jewish law, God’s provision for his humanity in Genesis 1 included the original, God-spoken and therefore normative word on gender equality in relation to God and each other, while Genesis 2 established the God-willed indissolubility of the marriage of a male and a female.

But for Paul, no longer living under the law, Genesis 1 also teaches the equality of all believers within the circle of the church, both local and global. The inequality between ‘the man’ and ‘the woman’ which followed their fall into disobedience, is done away with for all those who trust in Jesus Christ, God’s Son. All alike are counted as ‘children of God’, for by baptism they have been clothed with the goodness of Christ. So now ‘all of you are one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 3:28Gal. 3:28
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28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

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b).

It has been argued that this expansive, groundbreaking passage has nothing to tell the church about the inclusiveness of its ministry of the gospel; its teaching and preaching of the Word and its administration of the sacraments. This view does not take into account its closing statement: you are now part of Abraham’s family, and you will be given what God has promised. What has God promised? ‘I will bless you … and [you] will be a blessing to others… Everyone on earth will be blessed because of you.’ (Genesis 12:2,3Genesis 12:2,3
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2 I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you, and make your name great. You will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. In you will all of the families of the earth be blessed.”

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) How and when can this chain of blessing reach out to all? When all aspects of ministry are open to all, under the Spirit’s endowment and guidance.

The history of the church tells differing stories of results on the three frontiers of ministry identified by Paul.

1. ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek’ (‘Greek’ includes Romans, Scythians, Africans, Mediterranean Islanders and sundry barbarian peoples as well.)
From Pentecost Day, the Jerusalem church included ‘Hebrews and Greeks’, distinguished by language and culture more than by ethnicity. So the ministry of ‘Greek’ deacons soon complemented that of the ‘Hebrew’ apostles. These Greek-speaking deacons did not only ‘serve tables’ but they increasingly taught and evangelised and witnessed – and even died – for their faith (Acts 6-7; 8:26-40).

The Church at Antioch in Syria contained a multi-ethnic group of prophets and teachers: Barnabas, a Jewish Cypriot; Simeon Niger (black); Lucius of Cyrene (Lybian); Manaen, foster-brother of Herod (Idumean?) and Saul, a Jew from Tarsus (Acts 13:1-2Acts 13:1-2
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13 1 Now in the assembly that was at Antioch there were some prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen the foster-brother of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they served the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Separate Barnabas and Saul for me, for the work to which I have called them.”

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). From this group the Holy Spirit sent out the first ‘overseas missionaries’ to preach Christ to Jews and Gentiles of the North Mediterranean provinces. For almost 1000 years (until the tragic division between East and West) Greek and Roman bishops, priests and monks worked side by side with Irish missionaries in the conversion and churching of my/our ancestors, the Germanic and Slavic heathen peoples of Western and Central Europe. Their common mission charter was the command of their Lord to everyone, of every nation, everything that had happened.

2. ‘There is neither slave nor free’ The prevalence of slavery marked the greatest social divide in ancient societies. How did the Christian mission bridge this divide between slave and free?
In Paul’s letter to Philemon he encourages his Christian friend to welcome back a runaway slave, now a brother Christian, into his household church, and to find an avenue of ‘useful’ service for him. Christians were then not in a position to abolish slavery, but they could set their slaves free or purchase a slave’s freedom. Such ex-slaves became priests, monks and even bishops of city churches. Christians could not close the gap in society, but they did bridge it successfully in their churches by emphasizing the equality of slave and free in Christ.

3. ‘There is neither male nor female’ This manifesto on behalf of the ‘other half’ of the human race was a tremendous challenge to the male-dominated societies, both Jewish and ‘Greek’.
In the New Testament we see how Paul welcomed and encouraged women to take up whatever leadership positions were open to them. Many freely opened their homes for the worship and instruction of Christian converts from all backgrounds, however dubious. Among his ‘yokefellows’, Paul counted husband and wife teaching teams (Aquila and Priscilla, or is it Prisca and Aquila?) and women working in tandem (Euodia and Syntyche). We could name many more; for just as with the male leaders, those leading women whose names are known from the New Testament are just the tip of the iceberg. What we do know is that during times of persecution, women and girls featured prominently in the lists of effective Christian witnesses who were faithful till their martyr deaths.

When the persecutions ceased and the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as the chief hope and prop for its political future, church leadership patterns in the now prosperous and powerful established church became more markedly hierarchical, following detailed leadership models provided by Roman society and the Old Testament. But in Rome and in the ‘West’ generally, where the church had to fill in the social security gap left when the centre of the Empire was moved eastwards to the Dardanelles, there were still major roles for women to play in a continuing diaconate.

After the West Roman Empire collapsed and the ‘Dark Ages’ descended on most of the West, monasteries provided islands of refuge and learning. It was only in the sanctuary provided by their convents that females were equal to males in service, learning and authority – though separated and (ideally) celibate.

However, such limited equality was hardly the male-female pattern established by the Creator in the beginning. This pattern was asserted by the Saviour as the norm for God’s New Age and provided for in the Church by the Spirit. The Spirit generously apportions his gifts, including those of teaching and leadership, to male and female without distinction.

The goal of male-female equality in church and society, established by the Creator, remains the same. But the Church’s pupil report card reads rather like some of mine: ‘He made a good start; but could do better.’ Let me conclude by asking you to meditate with me on Deuteronomy 10:14-22Deuteronomy 10:14-22
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14 Behold, to Yahweh your God belongs heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth, with all that is therein. 15 Only Yahweh had a delight in your fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them, even you above all peoples, as at this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked. 17 For Yahweh your God, he is God of gods, and Lord of lords, the great God, the mighty, and the awesome, who doesn’t regard persons, nor takes reward. 18 He does execute justice for the fatherless and widow, and loves the foreigner, in giving him food and clothing. 19 Therefore love the foreigner; for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear Yahweh your God; him shall you serve; and to him shall you cleave, and by his name shall you swear. 21 He is your praise, and he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things, which your eyes have seen. 22 Your fathers went down into Egypt with seventy persons; and now Yahweh your God has made you as the stars of the sky for multitude.

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, which has this admonition at its heart:

‘…do not be stubborn any longer. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.’

Footnotes

  1. Just as a common Melanesian story of human origin is not sexist, which tells that the Primal Mother cut herself with a bamboo knife, saved the blood in two banana leaves, from which the first humans came forth. (It doesn’t really matter which one hatched first! [return top ↩]

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